Richard X. Heyman is no newbie to the music scene. His first single “Vacation” was released in 1980 and, since then, his journey has found him producing genre-bending ear worms that simply work. His years of service to the industry at large, his musical talents, and his ability to captivate a person with witty banter have all made it so he is an undeniable leader. We touched on his new album Pop Circles, and are happy to have found time to sit down with him and discuss some of the finer things in life. Like working with your significant other. And cats.
There is a trend among musicians to invite guest musicians to record with them on their albums, why is it appealing to you to invite Julia and Chris to help you with some tracks on Pop Circles?
I really wanted to have real strings on the songs that had orchestration. Julia Kent is a neighbor of ours and she is a sensational cellist. She agreed to come over to our home studio (i.e., our bedroom) and lay down the cello parts. We overdubbed her several times to create a cello section. Chris Jenkins is one of the associate deans at Oberlin College, Nancy’s alma mater. We worked with him in the past and he happened to be in New York City, so he stopped by with his viola. In the end, the two of them were overdubbed as much as 17 times. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in your bedroom these days.
You are very much a one man band artist, this of course shows your immense versatility as an artist. What are the advantages and disadvantages of approach when making music/an album?
The advantage is obviously the autonomy. You can work more in the mode of a painter or a novelist. I like having that freedom to rely on my instincts and to keep moving forward through the process. On the downside, I know other musicians will have different insights and ideas that might take the music in a direction I would not have thought of. I do have Nancy there. She is a fine musician and has great ears. So between the two of us, there is a collaborative work ethic.
Tell us more about your collection of vintage instruments, which is your favourite and why you like to use them when recording?
I have two vintage drum sets – a Ludwig and a Rogers, both from the early 60’s. Fortunately, the studio where I recorded the drums (Eastside Sound) had a vintage Rogers kit, so I used that for “Pop Circles.” I have a late 70’s Fender Telecaster and a 1967 Rickenbacker 360 12-string. There are two more Ricks – a ’65 375 and ’66 335, a ’62 Hot Rod Strat reissue, a contemporary PRS Starla, a Martin Shenandoah acoustic, a Dan Electro baritone and a few other assorted instruments. We use a Dan Electro longhorn reissue bass and a Hofner single cutaway hollow body vintage bass.
You are a part of the Doughboys and the song “Why Can’t She See Me?” got voted one of the coolest songs of all time, how did that feel?
Pretty darn good.
by nancy leigh
You included five of your own versions of Doughboys tracks on Pop Circles, why did you personally choose to revisit these tracks and how do the Doughboys feel about this?
I just wanted to see how those songs would sound from the songwriter’s perspective. I don’t really know how the other Doughboys feel about them.
Herman’s Hermit’s were are an amazing band, though I may not have personally been about when they came to prominence I have heard them and adore them. How did Heyman, Hoosier and Herman happen and what did the vocals Peter Noone bring to that EP that no other artist could bring?
Peter Noone and I were on Cypress/A&M Records in the late 80’s and we got to know each other. He was interested in recording some of my songs. Unfortunately, the song he wanted to do was slated to be my next single, but eventually we got together here in New York and did that EP. Peter has an ethereal tone in his voice and an incredible range, from low baritone to high tenor. His high notes have an angelic quality and his low end has a fullness that is very appealing.
You’ve worked with a lot of your musical heroes, whom did you feel most humbled working with and what was the experience like working with them?
Each experience is different. Link Wray had the greatest guitar tone. The only way to explain it was it sounded dirty and clean at the same time. And Brian Wilson – what can you say? It’s so overwhelming, all the beautiful music that he created. Playing with Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las was a total gas. She is rock’n’roll personified and a truly nice person, very cool singer and performer.
On Pop Circles your wife Nancy plays bass for you, what other musical talents does Nancy have?
Along with being a fabulous bass player, Nancy plays guitar and keyboards. She also sings harmony as well as engineering the recordings.
And did the cats help in any way with the music of Pop Circles as a whole? 😊
Their presence is felt in every note. They loved the viola and cello, though I didn’t have the heart to tell them what the strings were made from.
I love the Heymanuscripts, do you plan to write more?
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Haven’t thought about another one, but who knows?
Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
I would love for people to hear the new album. It’s available on www.richardxheyman.com, and I welcome their comments about “Pop Circles.” Thanks very much!
Dead Girls Corp. recently released an album. So what’s it like? Read on and you shall discover.
The album starts with Dead Girl, the feel of the track is very much 90s metal. It has nice droning chugging guitars and potent vocals. I also like the industrial feeling you get on this one.
From The Bottom is next, this has a gorgeous old school industrial start and feel, I must admit the feel of the music is nothing new but it’s amazing just by being what it is. This track has a lot of power behind it both vocally and musically, some very nice potent and energetic drumming here.
X’s No O’s again has that classic industrial start, the music is very packed full of sound which can sometimes detract from each angle of the music but this is not a bad thing. Again this track is nothing different from the previous two tracks in any way, but the music is one you find yourself moving to.
Alleys Of Death is by far the most melodic of all the tracks so far with great placement of each part of the music, it doesn’t feel as slightly too full as the previous three tracks do. This has a cock rock feeling to the track vocally and also the way that the guitars screech.
Ask For It is really a track that has very prominent vocals and guitars, they just seem to dual with each other yet compliment each other at the time. Though at points when both are full on they tend to drown each other out somewhat which is a shame as it detracts from the feel of the song.
Flesh For Fantasy again has a cock rock feel but this time it’s melodic and very sexy, almost orgasmic industrial metal. On this track the vocals sound like a sensual but aggressive David Coverdale. I like the music on this one, the backbeat is good but the guitars seem to tell part of the story which is quite clever.
Can’t Change does what some of the other tracks on this album don’t, it harmonizes the clutter of the music. It’s full on sound but with etiquette and emotion, I do love the slight echo on the vocals here as it adds a slight excitability to the feel of the music.
Promise Me is a track that is something different to other tracks on this album, this has more a late 90’s nu metal feel yet with a more slightly classic guitar sound. It’s almost a homage to the greats of that era like Stabbing Westward as it has that slight feel to it.
VDay comes next and to me as the album is winding down then so is the music, VDay is a lot more mellow than the other tracks but yet it does slightly peak at points. It has them chugging guitars again but yet there is something about this track, so far from what I have heard VDay is my favourite so far. It’s heavy, melodic, light and a true belter of a track.
Just The Same does similar to VDay, it winds down from the other tracks. Again this track is lighter, it’s less cluttered than some of the other tracks and I must admit this one is very harmonic. It just seems to fit well together, for the first time here you can hear the bass perfectly. Liking this track a lot.
Dynamite is again quite light compared to the beginning tracks, David Coverdale esq vocals make a return here. The music ebbs and gets a bit more heavier than VDay and Just The Same but then it calms down again, I think it’s perfect for the setting lyrically here.
And last but not least we have Worth, oh the bass here is very sexy. Only issue here is at points the music becomes cluttered again which kind of spoils what is a very catchy track, it’s just a little bit too much I feel.
Overall I feel this is not a bad album but there are quite a few tracks where the music is just too full and it becomes very cluttered which detracts from the actual talent of Dead Girls Corp. As the album comes to a close the music mellows and shows the true expertise of each of the musicians, vocals are amazing but they do get overpowered by the music sometimes.
If you like decent industrial then this album is for you, it’s nothing new but it does keep alive a genre that we don’t tend to see much of these days.
Songwriter and composer Gaby Alter released his latest EP under the moniker Yes Gabriel on Friday, April 19th. His career thus far has included creating music for a variety of placement opportunities, namely Off Broadway musicals, independent films, PBS, NPR, and even Disney. With this new work comes some pretty incredible lyricism, and stunning influence peeks through as well. Read on for more in our interview with Alter.
You have a lot of musical experience, what part of your musical past brings you the fondest memories?
In my late teens and twenties, my friends and I put on a string of rock musicals in a small theatre space under a pizza parlour in Berkeley, California. We would write shows about aliens and zombies and superheroes and perform them while people upstairs ordered pizza and played video games. I got to hear songs I wrote sung by some really talented people, and the audiences–a lot of whom were our parents and friends from high school and their friends–loved the shows. That’s really when I started to write songs more seriously. Your latest EP was recorded in a friends front rooms, why did you never go into the studio? Actually it was recorded mostly in my own living room–and full disclosure, I did go to a studio one day to track a string quartet. But to answer the gist of your question, I started out thinking I was making demos that I would later re-record in a studio. At some point, I realized there was an intimacy to the songs which I was capturing with my home recordings, so I felt I didn’t need that extra step. A lot of that came down to what needed to be recorded: most of the songs are built around acoustic guitar and piano parts, which home recording captures pretty well. Drums would have required a studio because they are too complicated to record on your own, but luckily, there were no real drum parts on the album, just loops. Also, recording at home allowed me to avoid making choices under the pressure of time and money. You had no pre-determined path for the album, it just formed. What does this approach bring to the album in your mind? Stephen King says not to outline a story ahead of time, but instead to excavate it like a fossil. That way you get something that’s the most truthful and interesting, because you discover the story as you write it. So hopefully my putting one foot in front of the other, rather than having a road mapped out first, helps the listener feel like these songs have an organic cohesion with each other and within themselves. What elements of musicals lay within your debut EP? When writing lyrics for a musical, I often use specific details. They make the character singing the lyrics seem like a specific person instead of a generic one. I use those kinds of details in my songs on this album. On “Fall Asleep”, for instance: “Do you still have my shirt/the one with faded letters that didn’t quite fit?/You used to wear it when we went to bed and I’d watch you fall asleep in it.” The listener can picture those specific, visual, intimate details of a relationship, and then hopefully it becomes more real for them.
There are other kinds of story telling I use in the lyrics which I use in musical writing. Like in “Dear To Me”, where the song starts with the beginning of a relationship and ends with what happens afterwards, describing moments and details throughout. It’s a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Musicals songs often have journeys within them, where a character goes from one place to another emotionally, physically or both. Similarly, these songs trace a journey from falling in love to losing love, often within each song.
That said, these songs don’t sound like my theatre songs musically. The arrangements and mood are quieter, more internal. They’re meant to be listened to on headphones or in your car rather than in a theatre. There are a lot of details in your lyrics, why put so much details into your lyrics when so many artists keep lyrics simple? I think I answered that in my last response, so I won’t repeat myself. 🙂 To you why do the elements of folk, electronica and chamber pop work well for you? The organic sounds of folk and the artificial sounds of electronica sounds go well together because they offer a strong and satisfying contrast. Electronica adds surprise to folk, and can limit the sentimentality or conventionality of a purely acoustic folk sound. I’m drawn to those types of sounds and to artists that combine them–Sufjan Stevens, for instance, is a big influence. And chamber pop – adding orchestral instruments to a pop-style song – is obviously nothing new. The Beach Boys and Beatles did it back in the 60s. I love how much richness orchestral instruments bring to an arrangement. They’re real and alive and have a lot of emotional power.
In your mind what would be the perfect place and time to listen to your new EP? Driving in the evening when the sky is orange, or late at night. I think the subway, or an airplane would work equally well. Of all the songs on your debut EP as Yes Gabriel, which song is the most you and why? I love all my children equally. 🙂 But seriously, this is a hard one to answer. I think they are all very much aspects of me, or who I was when I was wrestling with the things I sing about on the album: longing for someone, trying to understand what love meant when a relationship is over. What do you feel has been the definitive milestones in your career as Yes Gabriel? I sent the EP to a friend of mine before it was released, and he literally woke me up at 3 am calling from the west coast to tell me how much he thought it worked. I can’t imagine a better response to the album than that. It let me know that it was really landing emotionally. What makes Friday a good day to release your EP? Why was April 19th a good time? I waited too long for certain windows, like late or early in the year, and then I heard March is a bad month to release unless you’re playing SXSW. Also, it’s a dark-hued, internal album, more appropriate to colder weather, so any later in the year and it would seem a little out of place. Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add? Just a small plug for Bandcamp, where you can find my album. They are very fair to artists and support the discovery of new music. Thanks very much for interviewing me!
On April 5th, Drunken Prayer (Morgan Geer) will release his latest full-length, Cordelia Elsewhere. We took a few minutes to chat with him about his evolution as an artist, superstition, and the new album at length. Check it out below!
For everyone in Europe we find it hard to grasp the sheer size of the US, as a touring musician when you do a coast to coast tour of the USA just how long does it take and how does the touring experience differ from other countries?
It takes about 5 days to comfortably drive from coast to coast. I’ll be playing maybe 10 shows on the way to the west coast. It’ll take me about 3 weeks to get to LA from Asheville, North Carolina. In that time I’ll be stop in Austin and Albuquerque to rehearse two different groups of musicians for local shows. I could do it faster but on long tours like this it keeps me sane to stop and watch a few sunsets.
You will soon be releasing Cordelia Elsewhere, tell us a little bit about your fifth album.
I had a lot of music but the lyrics were a little shaky. After the 2016 presidential election I found a voice for the record though. This is the closest to a concept record as I’ve done in that regard. Some songs came very quickly, others, like “Rubble and Dust”, required a little thought. I go down a lot of rabbit holes lyrically and have to reel myself in sometimes.
Superstition forms part of the background behind Cordelia Elsewhere, why did you choose superstition as part of the basis of the album?
I’m not sure I consciously chose any superstitious themes. I brood on what lies behind the veil and the unexplained so it’s natural that what I write about. Some of those rabbit holes are filled with me writing without thinking and reflecting afterwards.
There are certain places in the world where superstition is something very big and they truly believe the tales, do you have a certain favourite superstition?
I think wet bread is bad luck.
I come from an Irish Catholic family – apparently you’re supposed to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in your yard, under the for sale sign, if you want to sell your house.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but what was it like when you met one of yours Tom Waits?
I wanted to throw up. It was surreal because it came at a time when I was listening to him more than usual. Whenever we talked I would walk away nauseous. I’ll never forget the way my name sounded coming out of his mouth. It was a peculiar feeling.
Your music keeps to them authentic American roots, what is the importance to you of keeping those roots imbedded in your music?
I don’t know that it is that important. Neither is speaking English but it’s what I know. Coming from a musical family that veers toward traditional jazz, country and blues, it’s a familiar voice that comes naturally. I try to stay insulated without isolation. It keeps me open but grounded. When I allow myself to follow every whim I turn into a gross mess.
Why have you decided to have the homesick theme in some of your songs, what makes you so good at conveying these feelings?
I grew up a little lonely sometimes. I was the only child of a single working mother and we moved around a lot. That left me with competing feelings of restlessness and a desire for a forever home. I identify with sad songs.
Why do you feel that Cordelia Elsewhere is your strongest album as Drunken Prayer to date?
It was recorded by a gifted engineer, Brian Landrum, and mixed by the great Mitch Easter from Let’s Active. We played the songs one after the next in a one room backyard studio with only necessary overdubs. The songs on this one came pretty easily all in all as well. That’s usually a decent barometer. When I have to labor too hard over something, it usually sounds fussy. I don’t think it’s a cluttered record.
The whole way in which artists make music and how people buy and listen to music has changed drastically technologically both for the good and the bad. Do you as an artist embrace that technology or do you prefer the older ways, and why?
More and more songs are heard as singles, separated from the album, like the early 45s. That idea has kind of come full circle now that you can upload singles directly to online distributors like CDBaby. I like good sequencing so I tend to buy entire albums, usually vinyl records. Not because they sound better – I’d never know the difference on my cheap system – but I like the machinery and the tactile quality of 12” records and the big art.
Also with the technology comes freedom for you as an artist, long gone is the time when a record label tells you what to do. What do you think are the negatives of this on the music industry as a whole?
There’s a lot more noise to sift through. I use streaming services, especially on tour, but sometimes listening to music in my bubble or personalized playlists gets old. A good radio station is a curator you can trust.
Every place has a different feeling musically, but yet your music is American. Are there certain songs which musically it could come from a certain place in America and if so which songs?
“Four Leaf Clover” started off more as a cajun song. It’s some of the prettiest music there is.
“Rubble and Dust” reminds me of the desert even though it name drops Bend, Oregon. It ended up with what I’d consider a Topanga Canyon sound. That was a happy accident.
Your father and your mother father played Jazz and Dixieland, how has this affected you musically?
For as many generations as anyone can recall, everyone on my mother’s side was some sort of musician. So being a musician of any level of success was an honorable pursuit. There was a point when I thought about maybe going into theology or law but it seemed wrong not to follow the musical wind at my back.
Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, anything you would like to add?
If you go down to the woods today, you better not go alone.
Cole Guerra has crafted a sound that balances on the edge between progressive rock and pop with latest project I Am Casting, a musical entity we have been captivated by since premiering “Clay” last year. Amidst the release of the project’s debut album, we got a few minutes to sit down and dig in with Guerra on everything music. Check it out below!
There was a time when you were studying and performing, were there any points where the focus of your studies intermingled with your song writing?
That period was well before writing any of the songs on Carnival Barkers. The overlap would have occurred primarily during the writing of an album called Scarves & Knives, which I put out under my own name years ago. I don’t believe that the focus of my studies really made its way into contemporaneous songwriting material, though I can look back and recognize that I was, at times, working some psychological stuff out (about myself) through my lyric writing.
On the other hand, my exposure during grad school and beyond to issues central to clinical psychology and social psychology has pretty clearly influenced my lyrics over the past couple years, while writing the tunes on Carnival Barkers.
Does your background in psychology help when writing lyrics?
In general, I’m sure that the psych background funnels me towards certain subject matter, even if I’m not altogether deliberate or conscious about this, and that it then informs the perspective I have on the chosen subjects. The psych background definitely influenced how I approached the material on Carnival Barkers. It was 2016 when I began working on the album, and from the start of lyric-writing I knew my framework was to write a collection of tunes that would observe, from various angles, something about the psychology of the political moment. Most of the songs offer a take on toxic influencers and/or their impact, both on those who ‘buy in’ to the message and those who do not. For example, I think of ‘Wolf’, ‘Charmer’, and ‘Lullaby’ as Pied Piper-like riffs, thematically. I view ‘Helpless’, ‘Muggers’, and ‘Seams’ as fragments of possible responses by those upended and left feeling powerless in the wake of a malignant carnival barker. ‘Flood’ and ‘Window’ are songs about the political exploitation of fear and prejudice.
Carnival Barkers will soon be released, “Flood” was the first single released from your new album. What is the background behind “Flood”?
‘Flood’ was one of the first songs written for Carnival Barkers – it was penned in mid-2016. During the run-up to the election, I was disgusted, like many, by how often Trump negatively framed non-white and non-European populations and made racial and ethnic distinctions increasingly salient. He was explicitly signalling to his political base that they should care about race and ethnicity differences, and that those outside their racial and ethnic ingroups (here’s the social psychology influence I referenced above) were clear threats. In essence, he seemed to have a strategy of stoking and then exploiting people’s fears about those in outgroups. We’ve seen this play out over the past couple years – in, for example, the alarmism about the “Caravan” or with the just-declared “national emergency”. ‘Flood’ tries to get at aspects of this, as does the song ‘Window’.
The video for “Flood” used footage of historical events that ties into the song, of the footage you used which part sums up “Flood” the most?
The juxtaposition of (a) clips from a 1957 promo piece by Redbook magazine that depicted tranquil white suburbia with (b) clips depicting the aggression and hostility of white women and men towards the Little Rock Nine during that same year.
After Scarves & Knives you kind of disappeared, what were you doing in that time?
At the time of releasing Scarves & Knives, and then touring in support of it, I was ‘on leave’ from my clinical psychology program. I had a decision to make after touring – do I finish the degree or commit full-time to music? I was invested in both possible paths and knew I wanted to wrap up the doctoral degree and keep the door open to becoming a practicing psychologist. I re-engaged in the grad program, which was a pretty immersive thing involving dissertation writing and clinical work, followed by an internship and subsequent ‘post-doc’ experience. After that, I jumped into developing my clinical psychology practice. During that stretch, whenever I tried to write music, it just felt kind of painful – like if I couldn’t do it full-on, why bother? Hard to explain, really. I somehow ended up going years without doing anything music-related. Most of that time, I didn’t even touch a guitar or keyboard. It wasn’t until 2016 that I began writing again.
Is there any overall advantage from working primarily from your home studio?
Yes, absolutely, especially as I’ve come to view tracking itself as an important part of my songwriting process – things are pretty iterative at this point, so I benefit from having the ability to easily go in and adjust, rinse, repeat, etc. I guess I could just call what I end up with a ‘demo’ and then go to a full-fledged studio, but the home studio is sufficient for me to obtain most of what I’m after – there are exceptions, and I did leave the home space to record some stuff.
What element of Carnival Barkers are you most proud of and why?
Probably that it feels like an album. There are thematic threads that connect the tunes, as I was describing earlier, and I think there are musical threads that do the same (arrangement choices, tonally coherent). Hopefully, if a listener takes in the full LP in a single gulp, there is a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” type impact.
You studied piano as a child, how did this set you up musically for your future musical endeavors?
I’m sure that early exposure to an instrument was one of the things that contributed to a love of music, along with extensive music-listening as a young kid. I’m also pretty sure that playing the piano made it easier to learn and play the guitar, which I picked up just after high school. This is conjecture, but maybe the most significant impact of playing an instrument as a young kid was that it introduced me very early on to the idea that one’s experience with music can be that of an active participant.
What was it about Richard Buckner’s Since that captivated you so much?
Just about everything, really. Chord progressions and melodies that grabbed me immediately and then somehow continued to grow on me after a ridiculous amount of spins. The sound itself – dry vocal upfront, immersive + emotional musical beds. The tunes cohere as an album, and yet there is a great amount of variability in song tempos, tone, structure, and length. I usually don’t weigh lyrical content that greatly in my music preferences, but Buckner’s lyrics on Since are just incredible. And lastly, the tunes seemed so specifically him – I didn’t have a clear sense of ‘influences’.
Since also introduced me to the work of producer and bassist JD Foster, who had produced the LP as well as Bucker’s preceding album, Devotion & Doubt. A few years after the release of Since, I invited JD to a show I was playing in NYC – the conversation with JD after that gig eventually led to the making of Scarves & Knives.
Why did it take a text from Ian Schreier to get you making music again, had you not thought of your music before that point?
There was something motivating about re-engaging with people I’d worked on music with in the past – Ian had mixed Scarves & Knives and been involved in some of the recording as well. Also, quite frankly, it was probably that the messages from Ian over a couple months, along with some other input from musicians I respect a lot, helped to build up some lost confidence. The initial communication from Ian led to a couple meetings at the studio where he typically works, and to me taking a plunge on buying some home recording software/hardware – I’d never had any recording gear previously.
When creating music for Carnival Barkers it was the lyrics that came second, what is your usual creative process of writing?
Lyrics have always come relatively late in the process for me. Frankly, as a listener, the music (the chord progression, the melody, the texture/sound/feel, etc.) speaks to me far more than does any lyric. A bad lyric can put me off, but I’ll listen to a great-sounding tune with middling lyrics. A good lyric is like a bonus of sorts, icing on the cake.
Though I’ve always written music before lyrics, the creative process did change quite a bit for Carnival Barkers. Prior to CB, I’d write the progression + melody + lyric while sitting with a guitar or at the piano, and think about arrangement and texture after the song was, in essence, ‘done’. With CB, the home recording setup and software enabled me to write and record percussion (and other) parts in tandem with the keys or guitar, and the rhythm and ‘texture’ tracks ended up influencing my progressions and melodies to a degree I never would have predicted – I really prefer this newer approach. As I start playing with a vocal melody over a progression I’ve already written and recorded, a lyrical idea or theme will sort of emerge – usually a phrase or two grab me and then I shape the remaining lyric accordingly.
Thank you for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
No, other than thanks for expressing interest in the album!